Dan Visconti, whose newmusicbox posts are often interesting, wrote yesterday about the possibility of composing compositions that operate as television series do: several independent “episodes” within a larger narrative structure that might take hours to experience and years, even decades, to compose.
Without addressing how new this idea is (some interesting ideas are new, others are not, doesn’t much matter to me one way or the other as long as they are interesting), infinite curves readers know I’ve been working on a project that overlaps with this concept for the last thirteen years – a set of string quartets that can be heard as individual entities or as a continuous journey. I’ve completed five so far, totaling a little over 2 hours of music. I’m not overly concerned with the logistical questions of how this music might be experienced in its entirety, because, as is frequently pointed out, new means of experiencing art are developed on a pretty regular basis.
From a practical perspective, the first three quartets were composed “on spec” — though thankfully each was premiered shortly after being completed – and the last two were composed on commission, which demonstrates the principle “if you build it, they will come.” Not a foolproof principle in any sense, but it worked in this case.
From an artistic perspective, the possibilities are mind-bending in the best possible ways. Unlike television episodes, musical compositions aren’t constrained to overly specific durations: these quartets range from ten to thirty-three minutes, each covering its subject in an appropriate amount of time. Additionally, the flexibility afforded by breaking each piece into movements gives the overall pacing an attractive diversity: the second quartet is in six movements; the third quartet is in one.
Since all of these pieces are for a single instrumentation, the logistical issues of getting them performed as a single entity are greatly reduced, compared to what Dan envisioned. Even so, the challenges may prove to be insurmountable. Nonetheless, the possibility for long-term development is intriguing enough to make the compositional effort worthwhile — and meanwhile, I’ve had a bunch of fine performances for each quartet.
Here is some of the fourth quartet on youtube:
String Quartet No. 4 “The Infinite Sphere” I
String Quartet No. 4 “The Infinite Sphere” II